If you haven't already done so, get a calendar and circle Feb. 3. It's the 10th anniversary of a sports breakthrough that should not pass unnoticed.
The XFL sprang to life Feb. 3, 2001, with its first game. I know, most of you think that's like commemorating the birth of New Coke or "Rosemary's Baby" -- assuming Rosemary had a girl and dressed her in a G-string.
Sure, the brainchild of rasslin' king Vince McMahon had its flaws. But history shows it deserves some due. For one not-so-glorious spring, the XFL gave us a partial glimpse where football was heading.
It was eavesdropping on locker rooms long before "Hard Knocks." He Hate Me would have been a Twitter god. The league was heavy on sex, violence and personality. You know, all the things NFL fans love.
If only the football and its image hadn't stunk, the XFL might have had a chance.
"The quality of play wasn't the best by any stretch of the imagination, but that shouldn't have been a surprise to any football people out there or any writers," Jim Ross said. "It was like every team was an expansion team."
Ross was the TV voice of the XFL. He came over from the WWE Empire to lend some wrestling zest.
McMahon and NBC figured football and pro wrestling would make a nice mix. It turned too cheesy for football fans. There wasn't enough schmaltz for the Jesse Ventura crowd. If it had been a loser-leave-town match, the XFL would have been banished to Pluto.
"I think people expected somebody to jump out of the stands, get out on the field, grab the football and score a touchdown," LA Extreme punter Noel Prefontaine said this week. "They expected something pretty crazy."
We may have hated you, but there was a lot to love. Like all start-up leagues, the XFL tried to tweak the NFL's nose. It was supposed to be more fun and in-your-face and fan-friendly. Instead of a coin toss, who wouldn't prefer to see a player from each team fight for the ball in a midfield scramble?
That sounded good, at least until a member of the Orlando Rage separated his shoulder in the opening game and was out for the season. Maybe the whole idea was doomed from the start.
A month earlier, an XFL promotional blimp had gotten loose in Oakland. After the pilot bailed, the blimp drifted three miles and eventually landed on top of a seafood restaurant.
The big balloon needed $2.5 million in repairs. Even McMahon wouldn't have written that script.
His people did try to gin up the usual WWE-caliber chicanery. Public address announcers would talk trash. The XFL signed Jesse "The Body" Ventura as its main color analyst. He was also Minnesota's governor at the time. He dignified that office by trying to stage a feud with New York/New Jersey coach Rusty Tillman.
"Gutless Rusty," he called him.
Ventura would second-guess Tillman's strategy. The sideline reporter would try to get a response from Tillman.
"In a perfect world, Rusty Tillman would be like Rex Ryan," Ross said.
In the real world, he was just Rusty Tillman, far more interested in just calling the next play than being a clown in the XFL circus. There were a lot of awkward moments, like in the opening game when the camera zoomed in and lingered on a hip-grinding cheerleader. Matt Vasgersian had never encountered that doing Milwaukee Brewers games.
"I feel uncomfortable," he said. "Man alive... All righty then ... Those suits sure are something else."
That lack of raunchy enthusiasm got him replaced by Ross the next week. Years of pro wrestling announcing hadn't completely prepared him for the XFL.
In an attempt at fan appeal and energizing the set, NBC's crews announced games from a makeshift stage in the stands. Besides having to deal with February cold and sleet, there was an unforeseen problem.
Press boxes have readily-accessible bathrooms. The only ones available to the TV crew were also available to however many people happened to be at the game. That gave announcers no more than four minutes to take care of business before the red light came back on.
Ventura at least had a security detail to clear the way. Ross had to fend for himself.
"Hey buddy," he'd say, "I've got to cut in line."
"I've got to go as badly as you do," he'd hear.
You think Al Michaels ever had that problem?
"It was just one of the crazy nuances we experienced," Ross said.
McMahon brought the league money and hype. NBC wanted some sports programming. The combination gave the XFL more start-up attention than all those other NFL rivals that ended up in the graveyard.
It paid off the opening game, when the Las Vegas Outlaws beat the Hitmen,19-0. The game was so one-sided NBC cut to the Orlando game for the fourth quarter. The overall rating that night was an astounding 9.5.
A cult hero had been born in Vegas back Rod Smart. Being the XFL, he was allowed to stitch "He Hate Me" on the back of his jersey. The message was that Smart wasn't going to let his detractors get the best of him.
The approach sort of worked for Smart, who went on to play four years in the NFL. As for the XFL, the hate was overwhelming.
McMahon's rasslin' shtick wasn't selling, which left football. But you can't build teams from scratch in 32 days. As Tillman said in a non-gutless appraisal, "The quarterbacks pretty much stink, and the receivers pretty much stink. These kids try really hard, but it is what it is."
The media either ignored the league or savaged it. That was easy enough to do since teams averaged about 16.5 points a game. Ratings dropped 50 percent in the second week. The March 31 game between Chicago and New York/New Jersey drew a 1.5 rating. It was the lowest ever for a network prime-time show.
Any sports league needs time to mature. NBC never looked at the XFL as more than programming. With ratings like that, it had to be canceled. It left a TV legacy worthy of "My Mother, the Car."
TV Guide Network last year listed the XFL as No. 21 on its list of 25 Biggest TV Blunders. Everybody was having a good chortle at McMahon's expense when Los Angeles met the San Francisco Demons for the XFL title.
The Xtreme won, 38-6. Prefontaine was in for the final snap in XFL history. Fittingly enough, he just took a knee.
"I killed the league," he laughed. "I've been living with the guilt for 10 years."
Players had been sized for championship rings before the game. When McMahon announced the league was folding, Xtreme players were given the option of buying the jewelry.
Prefontaine passed, but wide receiver Jeremaine Copeland spent the $1,400.
"I got mine because it'll be a trivia question the rest of my life," said Copeland, currently a Toronto Argonaut teammate of Prefontaine.
Among the questions -- was the XFL as big of a flop as most remember?
Yes, but its legacy isn't all schmaltz and silliness and sad football. Five XFL players went on to win Super Bowl rings. LA quarterback Tommy Maddox went to Pittsburgh the next season and was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.
The XFL made an episode of "The Simpsons," where Homer is asked which was the best team to never win an XFL title.
"The Long Island Iced Teas," he said.
Laugh track aside, the league was first to use Skycam, which fans now can't live without. It was the first to stick microphones on players and coaches, and interview them during games.
It gave fans unprecedented access, right down to the time a camera caught an assistant coach zipping up as he came out of a locker room bathroom.
So rest in peace, XFL.
We may have hated you, but there was a lot to love.